The George N. Parks I Knew

By Daniel Stratford

On Sept. 17, 2010, I rose early, and prepared myself for my American Political Thought discussion. That Friday morning, permeated by a mixture of clouds and sunshine, had, until that point, passed by unremarkably.

That abruptly changed once I perused my email at the Blue Wall after my discussion. Within the assorted messages encapsulating everything from political updates to various entities jostling for my allegiance on Twitter, I noticed an email from the Chancellor’s Office with an unfathomable title: “The Death of George Parks.”

 “Surely this must be some kind of error,” I thought. However, as my eyes absorbed the wording of the email that couldn’t be, I finally had become beholden to the unthinkable truth: that George N. Parks – the legendary director of our esteemed Minuteman Marching Band that I had counted myself as part of for two years – had passed from our world.

As the entire spectrum of emotional response overtook me, it was as if time had suddenly stood still and yet began to move more swiftly simultaneously. I was mourning the passing of one of my dearest professors, and also worrying about the emotional well-being of our beloved band, among whose members I count some of my dearest friends. Everywhere I traveled that day, there were groups of people speaking in hushed whispers of Mr. Parks’ passing and public testaments to his indisputable greatness, both as a professor and as a human being.

The first time I saw Mr. Parks was during our band orientation. My fellow rookies and I had been driven to raucous applause by our drum majors who extolled the band’s glorious past. After our applause had subsided, a man humbly entered, clad in a red “Power and Class” shirt, clapping slowly and rhythmically. Though the first words he said to us slip my mind, his reception was one fit for a liberating hero, for he was liberating us from the fear and apprehension which come with beginning collegiate life.

Mr. Parks himself had a special knack for inspiring people..I saw in him all of history’s most storied leaders – Cicero’s charisma and oratorical adroitness, Lincoln’s steadfastness and probity, Theodore Roosevelt’s boisterousness, Franklin Roosevelt’s propensity for relentless innovation, Winston Churchill’s refusal to submit to defeat, and Niccolò Machiavelli’s insight into human nature. In my eyes, there was nothing that he could not do, and similarly, there was nothing he felt that we could not do. We were bound together in musical citizenship and in our commitment to do the impossible on a regular basis..It was as if God himself had challenged the band, and we had collectively said, “I accept.”

Without the discipline and pride instilled and invested in us by Mr. Parks at band camp, the band simply wouldn’t have been able to endure performing in a downpour at the Intercollegiate Marching Band Festival at Allentown, Pennsylvania in September of 2008 or the bone-chilling cold of the last football game ’08. When I got a call from my mother 15 minutes before we were to perform at Allentown in October of 2009 that my grandfather had passed away, I wouldn’t have been able to muster the courage to perform if I had not known that all of my bandmates were unconditionally behind me.

There is an enduring debate in political science circles whether the nation creates the state, or whether the state creates the nation. In the case of the band, it can be said with confidence that the answer is both.

For years we had all participated in band, so by college we were all more than ready to be part of an inveterate musical institution. It was Mr. Parks who provided the leadership and vision to make that a reality.

It is the nature of things that we are but mere mortals, no matter how immortal our accomplishments may seem. We must all pass from this world and leave our legacy to be tended by our friends, family and compatriots.

In Mr. Parks’ case, it is a legacy that encapsulates the sum of human greatness and a legacy than can only reach higher. The best way we can honor him is by mourning him respectfully, and then heralding the passage of our marching band, the epitome of musical greatness, into a new era; its best days ahead of it. It is what Mr. Parks would want, a desire that even now arcs down from the heavens, where he is so graciously ensconced.

Dan Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]